Burning Sensation in Lungs: Is It an Emergency?

Having a burning sensation in lungs is a common symptom of panic attacks, heart conditions, and much more. Let’s explore it a little further.

If your chest is burning, then one possible cause is heart pain due to a spasm.

If the lining of your esophagus is inflamed (because of GERD), then this can also cause a burning sensation.

Yet another possible cause is musculoskeletal pain in your chest area. As for heart conditions, things like heart attack, pericarditis, and angina can all cause this scary symptom.

Even embolisms, which are blockages of blood vessels within the lungs, have been known to cause it.

Finally, if you have pleurisy, which is inflammation of the lining of the lungs, then this might be a possible culprit.

Heart Burn vs. A More Serious Problem

A lot of the time, it’s heartburn causing your burning sensation in lungs. Actually, heartburn has little to do with the heart or lungs.

It happens when the acid in your stomach erodes the lining of the esophagus. Here’s a helpful illustration:


As the acid moves its way up the esophagus, it can cause severe burning. A lot of people will interpret this as pain in either the lungs or the heart, when in reality, it’s neither.

Heartburn can also cause other symptoms like a bitter taste after eating or even a sweet taste in mouth.

Heartburn isn’t an immediate medical emergency, but it can make you more susceptible to cancer over the long run.

Other Symptoms Associated with a Burning Sensation in Lungs

Chest burning is often accompanied by a few other symptoms, some of which can be a sign of something serious.

Specifically, you might experience cardiovascular symptoms along with the burning. These include:

  • Arrhythmia (irregular heart rate)
  • Tachycardia (rapid heart rate)
  • Shortness of breath
  • Tachypnea (rapid breathing)
  • Chest pain that radiates to the shoulder

If you’re experiencing these symptoms, and they’re persistent/getting worse, then go to a hospital right away. Chest pain that radiates to the arm, shoulder, or jaw could very well be a sign of a heart attack.

Additionally, arrhythmias or tachycardia could signify a serious underlying problem that needs to be looked at more closely.


It’s possible for this symptom to be the result of pleurisy. It happens when the pleura (a sack) gets inflamed. When the pleura gets inflamed, it can cause you to experience burning as well as pain.

The burning can be chronic or be sporadic. If you’re a young, healthy person, pleurisy might go away on its own with enough rest.

But if you’re older, have chronic diseases, or aren’t getting sufficient rest, the pleurisy can get worse and the fluid will need to be drained from around the lungs.

If you’re experiencing a burning sensation in lungs, talk to a doctor to rule out pleurisy.

What Causes Pleurisy?

There are many things that can cause pleurisy:

  • Cancer (like mesothelioma)
  • Infectious diseases
  • Trauma (like broken ribs)
  • Lupus
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Gastrointestinal disease
  • Adverse reactions to certain drugs (like methotrexate)

Other causes include radiation therapy, blood clots in the lung, uremia, and even asbestos.

People with HIV or sickle cell disease are also at an increased risk of developing a burning sensation in lungs due to pleurisy.

When to See a Doctor

For pain in the chest area, when is the time to see a doctor?If you’re experiencing chills, a fever, or if you’re coughing up yellow sputum, you could have pneumonia.

In this case, you’ll want to visit a hospital to get a chest x-ray. Also, if you have a swollen leg along with chest burning, then this could be a sign of a venous thrombosis.

The blood clot in the leg can break away and travel to the lungs, resulting in death. So leg pain, especially if you’re older, is a sign that you need to go to a hospital right away.


In summary, a burning sensation in lungs can be due to a lot of things. If you’re an otherwise healthy person, it could very well be GERD.

But if it’s associated with additional, more serious symptoms (like fever, chills, or pain) then you should go to a hospital to rule out something serious.

If the burning is associated with things like irregular heart beat or pain in the shoulder, jaw, or upper arm, this could be a sign of a heart attack, so be on the lookout for that as well.

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